“An Unusual Request” April 22, 2018
“An Unusual Request”
Acts 4:5-12/ 1 John 3:16-24
Back in my mountain man days in western Montana, I lived in an old log cabin and spent my spare time digging in McCormick Creek looking for the giant pocket of placer gold that I just knew was buried there waiting for me to dig up. Unfortunately, I found just enough to keep me from giving up. Needless to say, it is now my firm belief that there has been far more money put into the ground than has ever been taken out; at least by small operators like me. But it was an experience. Part of that experience was the neighbors that I got to know out in the Nine Mile Valley. My closest neighbor was named Dick Fluto who spent the summers working a claim that his father had established back in the 40’s. Now Dick was a real character and had some great stories about growing up outside of Shelby, Mt just south of the Canadian border. The one that comes to mind was about the teen dances that were held in the nearby town of Cut Bank, which was next to the Blackfoot Indian Reservation. According to Dick, the chaperone of choice at these dances was a native Blackfoot and a deputy sheriff. He wasn’t the favorite of law enforcement for his negotiating skills. No, this deputy was always the first choice to chaperone teen dances because, quite simply, he was a big man – and I mean really big – and strong as an ox. His technique for keeping the peace was both simple and effective. Whenever two young lads would start getting into a pushing match, usually over a young lady I might suppose, the deputy would walk up to them, grab them by the shirt collars, lift them both in the air at the same time, and as he banged their heads together, he would shout, “No fight! No fight!” And that was it. The fight was over before it even began. /// Oh, that our God could be such a God. Oh, how we wish sometimes that our God was such a God.
And that is why the message for this 4th Sunday of Easter can be a problem. On this, the Sunday referred to as “Good Shepherd Sunday,” we are given a clear message; clear enough if you don’t mind being compared to …well, sheep. It’s not a comparison that I am comfortable with. Why couldn’t the 23rd Psalm and the writings of John read more like, “I am the big boss man – the CEO of the universe – and I’m here to tell you to get busy. I’m here to order you to get right with the world.” Or if we take it to the other extreme, God could tell us that we are like sheep and not so terribly bright and without him we are doomed to disappointment and failure and death. The funny thing is though, both options have a certain appeal, if we are honest. But the message that comes to us on this, the “Good Shepherd” Sunday, is neither. In fact, if you consider the way we handle our day to day business in the world, it’s downright unusual. Verse 16-18 in 1 John 3 gives us a taste: 16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.
17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. John is telling us step by step: this is how you know love – that he laid down his life for us. Yes, for us: the sheep, the undeserving, the goofballs. By this we know love, and I can’t help but think that when the enormity of that sinks in, I’m going to find myself wishing God would just pick us up and smack our heads together. That would be easier. But the message of John here is spot on and it’s all about a love that’s that is almost beyond our understanding. It’s an unusual request; a commandment, no less. (vs 23) And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. So it goes beyond a casual suggestion and more than a request – this is a commandment. But that doesn’t make it easy.
When I got home Friday evening, I had logged over 3000 miles driving through Montana, Wyoming, and So. Dakota. I didn’t plan ahead too well in the entertainment department and so was stuck with whatever radio station I could find. I found that no matter how desolate things got, I could always find a Christian broadcast of some sort, and so I took to listening to a whole raft of radio preachers to keep myself awake, and that seemed to work; it worked quite well. I was listening with the message from 1 John in mind. I was listening to hear the words of the Good Shepherd; listening for a shepherd who loved his flock enough that he would lay down his life for them; listening for a shepherd that not only loved in word but in deed and in truth; listening for a shepherd that understood that whenever our hearts betray us, then God is greater than our hearts, and knows everything. He knows everything, and yet loves us all the same. I listened for miles and miles, but I have to say, I was never able to sort it out. And so I come back to the words of John about this unusual request that spoke not so much to my head as it did to my heart: (vs 24) The person who keeps his commandments remains in God and God remains in him. Could it really be that easy? Do we have the stamina and the strength to do such a thing? And then John finishes by telling us the key: And this is how we know that he remains in us, because of the Spirit that he has given us. What a gift, what a blessing we have in the power of the Spirit, and God knows full well that we can never receive it by knocking our heads together. No, the gift of the Spirit came to us in Jesus Christ who like the Good Shepherd, laid down his life to show us what real love is all about. Once again, (vs. 23) ) And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. An unusual request? Not really. This is merely a command that leads to eternal life.
Amen & Shalom